Smokers Can Light Up Again in AC Casinos

The new law takes effect Nov. 16.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- Smoking will be permitted again in Atlantic City's 11 casinos for at least the next year under a change-of-heart vote taken Monday night by the City Council. The vote overturned a temporary smoking ban that took effect 12 days ago.

Mayor Scott Evans signed the measure minutes after the vote. It will take effect in 20 days, on Nov. 16.

On that date, Atlantic City's casinos will revert to a previous arrangement under which smoking is permitted on no more than 25 percent of a casino floor.

Casino workers were divided over the smoking ban. Some at Monday's meeting chanted, "Save Our Lives!" while others shouted, "Save Our Jobs!"

The council acted after casinos cited the worsening economy and revenue that had already been plunging due to stiff competition from slots parlors in Pennsylvania and New York.

When the council passed the smoking ban in April, Liz String was relieved. The 26-year dealer at Harrah's Resort Atlantic City was counting the days until Oct. 15, when the law took effect.

But after less than two weeks of breathing clean air, String and other dealers were incensed that they would soon be back in the smoke.

"We finally have clean air, which is our right, and they're taking it away from us," String said. "I think we were betrayed."

Janice Sigmund can't wait to light up inside the casino again. The Hazleton, Pa., resident was puffing a cigarette Monday afternoon in the valet parking area of Trump Marina Hotel Casino to celebrate a $200 slot win -- and rail against the law that forced her outside.

"This is horrible," she said. "I'm from Pennsylvania, and I can just as easily go 40 minutes up the road to Mount Airy and gamble there, where I can smoke," she said, referring to a nearby slots parlor.

Sigmund comes to Trump Marina once a month.

"But if I can't smoke, I won't come here anymore," she said.

Not all dealers want the smoking ban. A few dozen workers wearing red T-shirts that read, "I Want To Work" were among an overflow crowd that showed up more than two hours before the meeting started.

"Thirty years ago the people that got jobs in this industry knew what they were getting themselves into," said Gail Wiletzky, a dealer at Resorts Atlantic City. "Look, if you blow smoke in my face, yes, it bothers me. But this is what we chose to do. This is our livelihood, how we feed our families. Smokers will go other places where they can smoke, and we'll lose jobs."

Bob McDevitt, president of Unite Here Local 54, which represents casino hotel, food and beverage workers, pushed for the ban to be delayed, fearing that it could cost hundreds of union jobs.

In the seven-day period that ended last Friday -- at a time when the stock market was already seeing historic losses -- the amount casinos won from gamblers fell 19.5 percent, he said. That figure was confirmed by the state Casino Control Commission.

"In the current economic environment, I don't think anyone with any intelligence would say it's a good idea to give people another reason not to come to Atlantic City," he said. McDevitt called union members pushing for a total smoking ban "kamikazes" who are endangering their own jobs.

But some dealers say their tips are actually up since smoking was eliminated and that they see just as many customers as before.

Under the smoking ban law that was approved by the council in April, the casinos could set up enclosed, ventilated smoking lounges where gamblers could light up away from the slot machines and table games.

Eight of the 11 have done so. Of the others, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa has climate-controlled outdoor lounges. The Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort, and its sister property, Resorts Atlantic City, made no provision for smokers, who have to go outside to light up.

String said she dreads going back to smoke-filled gambling tables.

"It chokes you," she said. "And if you try to wave it out of your face, that's discourtesy and cause for termination.

"You can't back away from the table because you're responsible for all those chips in front of you," she added. "There's no way to escape. It's torture."


(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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